What Kind of Grass is Best for Chickens?

If you’re wondering what kind of grass is best for grass-fed chickens, the answer is, “green grass.”

What I mean is, lush green grass is loaded with vitamins and is has lots of available nutrients, but as it fades to brown, it becomes more and more useless to chickens. Chickens aren’t ruminants and can’t digest cellulose, so it’s the soft, green, palatable grasses that count.

Lush spring pasture is the best, of course, and that’s easy enough. The trick is providing green grass year-round, or close to it. Cool-season grasses will stay green all winter in mild climates, and warm-season grasses will stay green all summer when the cool-season grasses have all browned off.

Wheat and oats make great pasture for poultry until they die in the summer. Perennial fescues aren’t my favorite grasses, but they hold up well year-round, and (as it turns out) poultry don’t mind endophytes the way cattle do, so the biggest black mark against fescues simply isn’t relevant with poultry.

I’ve even heard good things said about crabgrass as a poultry grass!

And let’s not forget clovers. In a lot of climates, Ladino clover is considered the best, partly because it provides good nutrition (vitamins and protein, but few calories, just like grasses), and partly because its season is later than most grasses, giving lots of summer greenery when the grasses have faded.

So, remember, focus on stuff that stays green first, and worry about the details later, if at all. Most henyards will require a mix of species for long-season greenery.

And for the complete word on green feed for chickens, you’ll want to read Feeding Poultry by G. F. Heuser. Heuser was a poultry science professor at Cornell University, and he wrote this poultry nutrition book right at the tipping point — just after poultry nutrition became fully understood (with the discovery of vitamin B12), but just before the move to factory farms. So the book has a small-flock, traditional mindset that matches the mindset of today’s dedicated hobbyists and farmers like us, while still being modern and trustworthy. And it has a whole chapter on green feed! It’s a big book, very detailed and thorough, and (unlike more recent books) was written with the intelligent layman in mind. This book can open up new horizons, while saving you from the many feeding blunders that people make.

I Publish Books! Norton Creek Press

Thoughts? Questions? Comments?

I'm wondering what your thoughts are on this issue. Most of my posts are based on input from people like you, so leave a comment below!

Author: Robert Plamondon

Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, is an expert on free-range chickens, and is a semi-struggling novelist. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years. In addition, he holds down a day job doing technical writing at Workspot.

6 thoughts on “What Kind of Grass is Best for Chickens?”

  1. Which of the green grass or categories, rye, Napier, alfalfa,clover, please help list out perennials or what, it will go a long way….

    1. In the summertime, fairly short clovers do best. Chickens can’t handle tall grasses or clovers. Here in Oregon, the summers are very dry and whatever grasses and clovers can stay green are best, but the rest of the year the weather is cool and cold-tolerant perennial grasses work well. We have permanent pastures with whatever manages to grow on them. In warmer climates, I’ve heard good things about Bermuda grass.

  2. I want to plant something they wont scratch or eat. My 50 by 50 run is on a slope and all the hay just gets scratched to the bottom. The only green left is some kind of crab grass looking weed they don’t touch. That is what I want to plant through out the run. Any ideas?

  3. When I was growing up, my aunt gave her chickens, potato peels. What is the problem now with giving them to chickens?

    1. If the chickens aren’t starving they don’t have much appetite for food that makes them sick. Also, chickens have sharp beaks and can pick out tiny morsels of the good stuff. I haven’t watched hens attack potato peels, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they leave the actual skin behind and eat the rest.

Leave a Reply